The Human League’s album ‘Dare’ was and remains a touchstone of influence for me. It hardwired my love of EDM – electronic dance music – for life, and it’s a belter.
Heavily influenced by the commercial melodies of ABBA, acknowledged as such by the band’s founder, Phil Oakey, Dare spawned the monster hits Don’t You Want Me, Love Action and Sound of the Crowd. I don’t know why this and some of their other albums on streaming services (Spotify, I’m looking at you) have acquired an exclamation mark at the end of their titles. The only one that ever had one was Fascination!, more an EP than an album. It’s Dare. Not Dare! Travesty. Don’t inaccurately punctuate my youth, thank you very much. Lest anyone pull me up on this band and punctuation, yes, I know that Romantic? in 1990 had a question mark.
I wanted to look like Phil Oakey when I was 14 and began experimenting with makeup at 15. This was when I became a New Romantic and started hankering for clothes my parents found strange and ‘gender-bending‘. I had what was called a wedge haircut and took to having a fringe I couldn’t see through, so I developed a habit of constantly flicking my head back in order to see people. Ah, teenage vanity – or rather, I suppose, insecurity and some measure of joy at finding a tribe I could connect with, belong to. But this band was cool. Ice cool, in fact. For a time they were everything to me.
I still love Dare. The album is an immovable part of my life from back when I was going through puberty, a process often only referred to in terms of how to affects the body physically but arguably involving just as much of a mental transition. The cover art conveyed to me, at the time and still does, an image of minimalism and glamour. It screams “look at me” on Phil Oakey’s part. One thing for sure: that man knew how to apply eyeshadow and eyeliner.
There was a guy in my home town, older than me and I never knew him to even speak to, who walked around with Oakey’s trademark lop-sided haircut at the time and my envy was so intense, it was solid. I never could grow my hair that long, not even on one side to copy my idol. It always got to a stage where it would annoy me way too much. These days it takes all my efforts and a belief in prayer to hope what hair I have remains unto my eventual death.
On a lighter note, I saw the band live just a few years ago. Reduced in the 1990s to just Oakey and the two female singers who were originally brought in for their dancing, not their vocals, the band performed all their hits brilliantly. That was a full gig but I’d seen them once before, at London Pride, when they took the stage for a magical half-hour slot that got the crowd dancing. They’ve earned their place in pop history for sure. They continue to influence musical artists today and their melodies are often sampled.